Don't like to read?
In a global first, a man has received a heart transplant, however, it was replaced with the heart of a pig. David Bennet, 57, received the heart in Baltimore few days ago and appears to be doing well thus far. Bennett was originally deemed ineligible for the transplant; this generally means his health would not allow him to sustain the surgery.
The BBC reported that Bennett was thrilled to receive the pig heart as an alternative. The day before the surgery, Bennet was reported as saying. “It was either die or do this transplant. I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice.”
How the Surgery Was Made Possible
The pig heart had to be genetically modified so Bennet’s body would be less likely to reject the transplant. This surgery was a last-ditch effort to save Bennett’s life. It was conducted in a Maryland hospital on Jan. 7, 2022. Bennett was reportedly doing well on Monday.
Even though all seems to have gone well, it is too soon to tell if Bennett’s body will accept the pig heart. This seven-hour surgery was the first of its kind. In 1984, Baby Fae survived 21 days after a baboon’s heart was transplanted into her. Thus far, when animal organs are transplanted into human bodies, they have a short lifespan.
This time is different. The pig heart underwent gene editing to help Bennett’s body accept the transplant. Bennet is breathing on his own, however, he is still hooked up to the heart-lung machine to keep his blood circulating. The next few weeks are critical for his survival.
Why the Surgery Was Needed
Bennett was diagnosed with fatal heart disease but deemed ineligible for a human heart transplant. He says that he is grateful for the modified heart. The day before surgery, Bennett declared that his options were to try the pig heart or die. He said he wanted to live even though it was a shot in the dark.
The transplant was approved on New Year’s Eve. Currently, there is a shortage of human organs. This has made medical science look to other areas for organs to transplant into humans. The pig heart is the first of its kind to be genetically modified, so it has a better chance of being accepted by Bennett’s body.
The surgeons who attended the surgery are feeling hopeful at this time but are proceeding cautiously.
Pig Heart Transplants Could Be the Savior for Many
Currently, there are more than 100,000 people on the transplant list. However, 6,000 of those people die each year having never been given the opportunity for an organ transplant. In 2021, a record number, 3,800 people, received heart transplants.
The modified animal heart transplant could be the breakthrough medical science needed to help those who need transplants for survival. Since Baby Fae’s experimental heart surgery in 1982, the experimental transplant surgeries with animal organ donors declined. However, Baby Fae only survived 21 days after receiving the baboon heart, and surgeons and scientists were discouraged.
Pig hearts are the same shape and size as human hearts. Surgeons have been using pig heart valves to replace those in humans for decades with grand success.
A grant was given to the Maryland hospital to determine if genetically modified pig hearts are a valid alternative to human heart transplants. The grant is $15 million. The modification, called gene-editing, removes three genes that can cause the human body to reject the pig heart by boosting the immune system. Another pig gene was deactivated to prevent the heart from becoming too large for the human recipient.
Written by Jeanette Vietti
Clacton Gazette: Surgeons successfully transplant pig heart into human
Live Science: Surgeons transplant pig’s heart into dying human patient in a first
BBC News: Man gets genetically-modified pig heart in world-first transplant
Medical Xpress: In 1st, US surgeons transplant pig heart into human patient
Featured Image Courtesy of Eric Schmuttenmaer’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inline Image Courtesy of Joshua Berry’s Flickr Page – Public Domain License